Project Management

The Money Files

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from RebelsGuideToPM.com.

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How to keep a business case up to date

More schedule tasks to do before you baseline

Quarterly review time: How was your Q1?

Saving 14 minutes a day with AI

Finished your schedule? Here’s what to do next

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Saving 14 minutes a day with AI

Research amongst Microsoft Copilot users highlights that on average they are saving 14 minutes a day (1.2 hours per week) by using Copilot, which is an AI-add in. Some users reported saving over 30 minutes a day, and using the time gained for focus work or additional meetings (*gulp*).

If you’re wondering how GenAI is going to change the way you work, Copilot is an example of something quite easy to use that speeds up completing your daily tasks. For example, you can draft a new presentation from a prompt or summarise an email thread or chat thread. I can see how this would help you catch up on meetings too as you can ask it questions based on a meeting transcript, or get a recap of the whole meeting.

I think that nothing really beats the aha moments in a meeting where you are working with others and finding a way forward, but there are also plenty of meetings that should have been an email. And I don’t know about you, but my diary is often double-booked with invites, and it’s hard to find time to squeeze more calls in, especially with senior leaders. Summarising a missed meeting can save people 32 minutes, which you could fill with another meeting, or take a lunch break, or write that project proposal that’s been sitting on your desk for a week.

Fourteen minutes per day does not sound like much, but it’s worth having, if the overall burden of admin work is reduced, freeing up time for us to do more project leadership and less creating slides, typing minutes or searching for files (the study said users were 29% faster in a series of tasks including searching, writing and summarising information).

The most important thing that I took away from the survey is that it doesn’t take less effort – it also feels like it takes less effort. The mental load of work is substantial. There are tasks to juggle, unending To Do items, stakeholders to keep engaged and lots more that we hold in our heads every day. Sometimes I end the day with decision fatigue. Sometimes it’s hard to switch off and the mental energy expended throughout the day has been exhausting.

If I can feel like I’m doing less burdensome work and more value-add work, that has to benefit my mental health and my enjoyment of the job.

Personally, I think this kind of GenAI has more practical use for project leaders than the ChatGPT-style interfaces that are available, including PMI’s own Infinity. I checked that out too, and it’s good for learning. I asked it to work out some potential risks for an example project for me, and it did a pretty good job of coming up with some basic risks I could include in a risk log as a starting point for discussion. A huge benefit of Infinity over my ‘normal’ ChatGPT account is that it provides the sources, so you can be confident you’re getting reliable, trusted information, which is very important if you’re building out work products based on the guidance.

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I can see a workplace in the not-too-distant future where we’ve got a pop up GenAI tool on the desktop to support everyday tasks, and a ChatGPT-style interface for research and more in-depth (or even quick) questions. What do you think about the way GenAI is influencing how work tools are built and the features on offer to you? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: March 12, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

How to give a status update

I’m sure you’ve sat in meetings where you go round the table and give updates on progress. You could argue that it’s not the most interesting or effective use of everyone’s time, but it is used in many settings. For example, if you have a team of project managers meeting and it is useful to share a couple of points about the work that is going on, as the rest of the team wouldn’t necessarily be aware of it while they are busy on other projects.

However, I also know that many people hate the ‘creeping death’ of going around the room for updates. Below are a few tips from my experience that will help you in your next ‘round table update’ meeting.

status update

Be prepared

If your team meetings or PMO meetings have a section where you go round the table giving updates about progress and what you’ve achieved and so on, then you should know it’s coming. It might be specifically called out on the agenda or just part of your normal meeting practice.

Spend some time before the meeting – just a few minutes – writing down a couple of bullet points so you have something to say when called on. These can be about your projects, successes, blockers or dependencies on other projects that would be worth highlighting to the group.

Be quick

If you aren’t given a time limit, assume you have hardly any time! Three minutes feels like a very long time to the other people having to listen to you, so I would suggest less than that if you can, especially if you have nothing much to report. 

If you are the first to go, you set the unofficial time limit for the group, so it’s even more important to be speedy.

Be original

Don’t repeat what another colleague has already said or things that the team already knows or has heard about. For example, if you said a milestone was completed when you all met up last week, you don’t need to say it again. It’s worth keeping track of what you did say for this exact purpose – I often find people repeat status updates that we covered last week and I have to assume they don’t remember telling us about it previously.

It's also common that several people with the project office will be working on the large projects, and the person who goes first may well share the big successes or challenges for that project. You don’t need to say them again; just say, “To build on what X has already said about the Y project,” and share something different. Make a note of a couple of different updates you could give and cross them off your list if anyone else says them first!

Be specific

Focus on specific things. Talk about what issues you are having or successes the team achieved. Share where you need help or what you know they are most interested in. Focus on things that overlap with other projects, for example, where you share resources, as these are the information points that will help others in the team manage their own work more successfully.

What other tips do you have for round table updates, or don’t you use that format any longer? Let us know your experiences in the chat!

Posted on: November 02, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

3 Things a Holiday Magic Show Taught Me About Project Management

magic show

Earlier this month, I wrote about our summer trip to a holiday park. Two of the shows we saw while we were there were magic shows. One was a comedy-style show with some fun magic thrown in. The other was a ‘proper’ serious magic show with all the atmospheric lighting and big illusions.

It got me thinking – I know, this is not how most people spend their holidays, but perhaps project managers are this way inclined – about the parallels between the shows and my job back at base. Here’s what I learned.

1. The wait is part of the journey

We learned on other holidays that if you want a good seat, you have to get to the show early and sit and wait for a loooong period of time for it to start. This is because there is no allocated seating.

While we were waiting for the show to start, having arrived 40 minutes early, the family at the table next to us got out a game to play. They used the downtime as family time, getting everyone involved. It was part of the experience for them: being around a table to play a game.

We had brought books and electronic devices, and we were all occupied but not together. We weren’t using the time as family time. We were just waiting.

The wait is part of the experience. Plan for downtime on your project. How can you use that time productively? For example, can you bring forward tasks, fit in a peer review or a risk review, run an audit, or something? Where there are slower periods on projects, what are you going to do with them?

2. Same prop, different delivery

Both magicians used an identical prop, and they both performed Houdini’s Metamorphosis trick (where one person is locked in a box and the other stands on top with a curtain – they drop the curtain and they’ve switched places).

But the delivery was different. One was fun and light; the other was dark and dramatic. But the box looked the same, and the trick was the same.

Tailor what you’ve got to make it yours. The lesson for me here was how one item could be used so differently. Tailor what you use to make it relevant to your project and the way you want to deliver your work.

3. If you’ve not seen it before, it’s magical

The second magic show contained big set piece illusions: a box pierced with swords, but amazingly the magician inside was still safe, making snow from a piece of paper, levitation, escaping from a strait jacket before a flame burns through a rope and the magician is squashed. I am a huge magic fan, and I’ve seen all these before, in live shows and on TV.

But for my kids, they are new.

And they were truly amazed.

Don’t take for granted what you know. For some of your stakeholders, the magic of project management will be new for them. Train people in the process. Let them know what to expect and help them understand things about the process that feel new and different.

You’ve seen it all before; you’d read about it, done it, written the documents, and got the T-shirt. But they haven’t. Give them the support they need to come along the journey with you.

Project management isn’t really magic, but some days it feels like the team comes together, and we’ve pulled off something amazing. Don’t you think?

Posted on: October 17, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Holiday Rep Techniques We Should Use in Project Management

holiday rep techniques

OK, it’s been a while since the summer holidays for us here in the northern hemisphere, and for a while, I’ve been musing on some things I noticed while we were away.

During the school holidays, we took our children to a holiday park – one with a swimming pool, mass catering options, and evening entertainment. During the entertainment portions of the trip, guest services reps – what’s the proper name for those? – milled around before the show started. They managed the queue, checked tickets, and then talked to us while we were waiting for the event to begin.

elizabeth harrin

They were excellent at customer service and making the time feel like it was going faster. Here are a few things I took away from the holiday that I think we could be implementing in project management.

It’s all about the merch

Get your guests in for one thing and then cross-sell them something else. “While you’re here, would you like a hat?”

No, I don’t want a dinosaur hat, but plenty of people in the audience must have bought them for their kids.

The merch stands were obviously secondary money-spinners. The shows themselves were included in the cost of the holiday, but things to wave in the crowd, books, soft toys, and more were on sale at every show we went to.

Takeaway for project managers: “While you’re here, can I also ask you about…?”

Think about who is coming to your meetings and what else you need from them that is beyond the scope of the meeting. Can you ask about an upcoming project? Secure some support for a different initiative?

What can you showcase to a captive audience in a team meeting or even a one-to-one conversation with a stakeholder?

You could even ask them if they need any help with anything else if you are looking to build your network or take on different projects in their area.

Warm people up

Ten minutes before a show started, we’d get a warm up. “Who’s excited to see the show?” Plus lots of reminders about photography, how to order drinks, signposting guests to various social media accounts to follow, or even pointing out the merch stands by the side of the stage in case you had changed your mind about that dinosaur hat after all.

Takeaway for project managers: Build excitement and let people know what is going on.

Let people know how long they have to wait or to do something. Repeat the basic instructions several times. Engage across large groups with broadcast updates and keep reminding people about the benefits, tasks, and activities.

Start high

We did enjoy our time, and we decided during the stay to book again to a different park in the same chain for next year. They encourage people to do that, as you would imagine, by having an on-site shop that discounts holiday bookings for people who book again before they leave.

When I went to book again, I got pitched the most expensive accommodation at the other park, almost £1,000 more than I wanted to spend. We then reviewed all the options and found different ways to bring the cost down to our budget.

Takeaway for project managers: Ask for what you’d like and then work down from there.

When you ask for time, resources, budget, or another type of contingency, be generous with yourself. Start from the position you’d feel most safe in, and then negotiate from there.

Note: this approach might not work so well for risk appetite! You’d want to do it the other way round. Start low and increase the risk as you feel more confident.

The main thing I took from all of this is that there are useful tips and lessons from other management disciplines that are applicable to how we work on projects. While we focus on learning about project management as part of our career journeys, actually, the role of project manager can be far broader as it involves liaising with lots of different business areas, and they all have something to teach us.

Posted on: October 03, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

7 Ways to Save Time on a Project

Have you found yourself short of time on a project? It’s happened to me more often than I can count – “If only we had a bit more time,” we say, as we hurtle towards the scheduled go live date.

But can you make more time on a project? Kind of. Here are 7 ways to save time on a project.

1. Add resources

The first, easiest, option is to add resources. Bring in more people or equipment so the job gets done faster.

Another option is to add more money to the project: with a larger budget you will have more choices. Perhaps you could opt for faster shipping or buy in an element of the project instead of having to make it yourself. If you’ve got contingency budget or access to a management reserve, can you make the case that it’s appropriate to use those funds in this particular circumstance? Make sure you can justify your ask.

2. Work in person

This one might be controversial, but I think there are time-savings to be made when you bring people together.

Working in the same room saves time on the back and forth of conversations done virtually. If you have critical deadlines, are deep in bug fixing or are supporting a go live, consider getting the project team together for faster results.

3. Review the scope

Review the scope and see what could be done in a smarter way: do you really need a print booklet of the annual report or could you manage with a PDF only? Could you move any activity to a Phase 2?

Changing the scope to save time usually means doing less, so it’s only an option if you can deliver a decent result for your stakeholders by taking shortcuts. Make sure they are onboard with your recommendations and have the final say about what gets cut.

4. Review the schedule

Review the timeline. Look for discretionary dependencies: the ones you can move without it being a huge deal. Put tasks in parallel instead of in sequence but accept the risk that comes with this. You might end up doing work twice or revisiting things that are technically ‘completed’ because working in parallel might throw up some challenges later.

5. Review assumptions

What assumptions have you made that may not actually be true? This is particularly relevant about people’s availability. For example, if you assumed you could not work on site after 6pm because that’s what has always been the case in the past, it is still worth finding out whether you could extend on-site hours for this project. That could save some time.

6. Review the staffing

Can you switch out the apprentice for a more experienced (and therefore faster) colleague? What could be done before the expert gets their hands on it? Perhaps a colleague could draft the test scripts and have the experts in the test team polish them up. That way they don’t have to start from scratch.

This doesn’t always pay off. I know from editing articles from other writers that sometimes the editing is just as time-consuming as writing the whole thing, but it could work in certain circumstances so it is worth considering.

7. Be your best self

Finally, be someone people want to work with. Make sure you invest the time with stakeholders before the challenge of delivering faster arises (I know, you don’t have a crystal ball) so they are prepared to work with you when times are tougher.

You can’t switch this on as a last minute shift around, but approach your project team and all the work you have to do as a kind, professional leader. And you never know, when you ask other people nicely for help, they might just say yes.

Posted on: July 03, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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